41-41, .500 seems so long ago. The Sixers seemed to be on the precipice of taking that elusive next step up the standings. Outside of the horrible final game, they showed flashes of ascending the ladder in the East. Right there with them were the Chicago Bulls. At least one of those teams is still there.
Much like the Sixers, the Bulls lost one of their best players (Ben Gordon) to free agency. They also returned a key contributor (Luol Deng) from injury, and they stumbled out of the gate. Coach Vinny Del Negro (best mullet in the NBA) spent the first two months of the season firmly planted on the hot seat, but the Bulls have since rallied and coming into tonight's game at the Wach, they're right back at .500 and fighting for a playoff berth.
They lost their top scorer, but really haven't taken a step back. They're also sitting on a decent amount of cap space this summer, so things are looking up for the Bulls. They aren't exactly a strong team, they are defensively, but their offense is stagnant, at best. They rely heavily on Rose and Deng. Salmons is coming on after an extremely slow start, but they don't get much scoring up front.
Chicago has really played excellent ball recently, going 9-3 in their past twelve after making a key adjustment by starting Kirk Hinrich alongside Rose and sliding Salmons to the "scorer off the bench" role. They recently won 5 straight games over +.500 teams on the road, but then returned home and laid an egg against the lowly Clippers. Needless to say, they're probably going to be motivated by the letdown at home tonight.
The back court rotation of Rose, Hinrich and Salmons is going to cause severe problems if Eddie Jordan insists on limiting Jrue's minutes. Obviously, the matchup I'm dying to see is Jrue guarding Rose, I'm just wondering how much of it we're going to see.
Brand will be working against a rookie, so expect him to get looks. Iguodala has a tremendous athletic advantage on Deng and with Iverson out hopefully he'll play a bigger role in the offense tonight.
Overall, I expect Jordan to panic against a solid defensive team and start trotting wacky lineups out there to "get some flow." My concern about the all offense lineups he loves is Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Deng and Gibson are all very good offensive rebounders. Giving up second chances is one sure-fire way to turn a terrible offense into a terribly efficient offense. Keep an eye on the glass if/when Jordan decides to use Speights at the five and Thad at the four.
Key to The Game: Keeping Rose out of the lane. Make him a jump shooter.
If ______________ the Sixers will win: 25+ minutes for Jrue.
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